Island is an Island of Ice and Fire.

 
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Island is an Island of Ice and Fire

Perched on the top of Europe, the island of Iceland lies a chilly 64 degrees north. But there's far more to the country than its well-known soccer players or trying to keep warm.

Not necessarily the first destination that springs to mind for a short break or holiday, nonetheless Iceland possesses a whole raft of prerequisites for a long weekend or even a week. It's true there probably won't be a lot of sunbathing or swimming - although the long summer nights and abundance of hot outdoor, natural spas more than make up - but there are myriad other activities with which to while away the endless winter evenings or midnight light.

And at under three hours away from the UK, Iceland is not exactly inaccessible either. This is a break with a difference - Iceland is essentially a volcanic island and sets the tourist or business visitor a plethora of climatic challenges that offer a real change from the norm.

But don't go near to the Arctic Circle expecting the "Paris of the north" (who hasn't got a "Paris" of some compass point?) or some such marketing moniker. This is a country that has emerged spewing lava and volcanic rock from the ocean over a great age and whose topography and architecture reflect that nascent struggle with the elements. Roads are good but virtually empty and pass through some of the strangest lunar-like landscape on earth. It is fairly unusual - outside the major towns - to encounter anything like traffic and a sturdy four by four would be highly recommended - just in case the terrain becomes a little more difficult or if snow is forecast.

Iceland still retains something of a cold war feel to it. During the east-west standoff, the country was a staging post between the US and Europe and indeed, NATO still has a presence there. Many novelists have used the place as a setting for their thrillers and who can forget the 1986 "fireside chat" between Presidents Regan and Gorbachev in the capital Reykjavik, to discuss the controversial American "Star Wars" initiative.

That rather old-fashioned feel extends to the country's politics as well. The country is staunchly nanny-state and with sky-high taxation on anything remotely resembling a luxury product, cheap this country is not. A glass of beer will set you back around US$9 / [pounds sterling]6, while a decent bottle of Rioja in one of Reykjavik's restaurants - well the figure can easily be US$90 / [pounds sterling]50.

Iceland's primary city -...

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